On Campus
Apr 04, 2008, 05:36AM

Five Foot Three

Being an anonymous, hateful idiot isn't the same  as campaigning for first amendment rights, no matter what the founder of Juicy Campus says.

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Photo by b_d_solis

Matt Ivester, founder and CEO of the college gossip website JuicyCampus.com, may be an unbelievable asshole, but he’s no dummy. Ivester capitalizes on people’s infatuation with rumor spreading and character defamation by providing an anonymous forum for college students to post hateful and inflammatory comments about their fellow classmates. Packed with some of the most racist and sexist tripe you can find on the Internet, post topics on Juicy Campus cover everything from who is the ugliest slut on campus to which students are closeted homosexuals, and even the professors you wish would die of AIDS. Worse still, anonymous posters list fellow students by their full names, so there can be no confusion that the girl most likely to give you herpes is the Kate that sits next to you in Chem Lab, not the one who lives down the hall in your dorm.

A one-minute visit to the site is enough to realize just how despicable and degrading Juicy Campus’ content is. It does little more than perpetuate tired racial and gender stereotypes while removing all fear of accountability for such prejudices. But it’s not simply the fact that Ivester encourages such content that makes me think he’s an asshole. He’s not forcing anyone to post that So-and-So is a fat whore; he’s simply providing a forum in which others may cowardly, and thus safely, do so. It’s just good business really. Ivester saw a demand and chose to meet it.

What bothers me is that, as Juicy Campus has come under increased fire from both universities and state governments—schools have called on their student bodies to boycott the site and the New Jersey Attorney General is investigating it for violating the Consumer Fraud Act—Ivester has promoted his site as some proud bastion of America freedom, a great protector of our Constitutionally-given rights.

By contending that Juicy Campus promotes a free exchange of ideas and pompously asserting that he will not bullied into letting the New Jersey Attorney General violate users’ free speech rights, Ivester presents himself as some sort of Internet-age Thomas Jefferson. The problem is, Juicy Campus directly conflicts with the basic philosophical and ideological foundations on which such freedoms are based. Freedom of speech is not simply the right to say whatever worthless opinion pops into your head, regardless of who may or may not be offended by it. It was created to limit the power of the government, to protect citizens from censorship so that they might think and speak critically about the nature of society and its governing body. It is meant to promote a public discourse aimed at the pursuit of cultural and philosophical truth, a sort of social conversation that takes differing views into account, with the hope of reaching an ultimate conclusion of what is morally and socially best for America.

Juicy Campus does nothing to further these aims. The website may promote freedom of expression simply by existing as a place in which people may freely express themselves, but its purposeful anonymity removes all ownership from posted content. In order to properly engage in a free exchange of ideas, as Ivester claims Juicy Campus contributors are attempting to do, there must be some ownership of those ideas. Anonymity takes away all accountability. No one can be held responsible for the claims made, or forced to explain themselves by providing some kind of evidence, some justification for their hateful smearing of another individual. If Juicy Campus was really a purveyor of American civil liberties, it would require accountability for expressed ideas and those who visit the site would want to take ownership of the things they’ve said, because that is how you establish a public discourse, how you create a free exchange of ideas that honors the rights Juicy Campus claims to protect.

Matt Ivester is certainly not the first person to hide safely and comfortably behind his First Amendment Rights. The KKK has been doing it for well over a century now. Juicy Campus isn’t as horrific as the Ku Klux Klan, but a lot of the same sentiments are present. And while it may be easier to ignore Juicy Campus by simply choosing not to visit the site than to turn a blind eye to a giant burning cross, both still stand as testaments to the fact that age-old prejudices continue to prevail, and neither serve as particularly inspiring examples of free speech.  

While Ivester is right that the law is on his side and Juicy Campus can’t be shut down simply for saying mean things, the college students posting on this website are not gallantly displaying their American rights and Ivester is not their fearless leader in some great fight to ensure freedom. They are just a bunch of kids with too much time on their hands and nothing positive or worthwhile to say. Odds are, most of the postings on Juicy Campus are pure fabrications, but that doesn’t change the fact they’re incredibly hurtful and have real potential to damage students’ reputations. How would Ivester feel if he knew I posted something degrading about him: that while he may have graduated from Duke as one of the nation’s elite young minds, he also holds the record for the school’s smallest penis. Sure, it wasn’t the nicest thing for me to say, but at least he knows his accuser. So Ivester, if you can take some time off from reading your pocket copy of the Bill of Rights, feel free to respond. Maybe we can engage in free exchange of ideas.

  • We have a similar site at Hopkins called "JHU Confessions," and it looks like it serves the same purpose. It was meant to be a place where people could share their problems and seek help, but quickly turned into a bashing circuit. It shows real cowardice when someone has to hide behind anonymity to share their opinions.

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  • Admit it. Looking at Juicy is a lot of fun. Not much different than reading about dumb movie stars, except they're not famous.

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  • We shouldn't be reading about dumb movie stars either.

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